NDN Blog

New Study Shows America Embracing Free Trade, Rejecting America First

We and others have been arguing that Trump’s "America First" policies have failed, from both a governing and political standpoint. A new study from Pew released today reinforces this view and shows another dramatic rejection of Trump’s fundamental argument about America and the world. When asked their view of trade, Americans overall said that free trade agreements between the US and other countries were a good thing for the US by a resounding 43 percentage points (65-22). This represents a dramatic shift from 2017, when Americans supported free trade agreements by just 2 points (45-43), and illustrates how the public as a whole has now rejected the protectionism of the Trump administration.

This repudiation of Trump's trade policies has occurred across party lines, with Republicans even supporting free trade by a 30 point margin today (59-29) after opposing it by 34 points (29-63) in 2017. Democrats in particular have become a fundamentally pro-trade party, saying that free trade agreements are good for the US by a 58 point margin (73-15), itself a significant increase from two years ago when Democrats were in favor of free trade by 30 points (59-29).

The failure of America First has also shown up in recent polling on immigration, as a rising number of Americans say that immigration and immigrants are good for the nation.  A recent example comes in this week’s Quinnipiac poll, which found that Americans think immigration has been good for the country by an astonishing 53 point margin (70-17).

You can find more from us challenging the President’s misguided trade policies in this series of essays; and more from us challenging the President’s immigration policies in this backgrounder

Friday's GDP Report Illuminates Trump's Broken Promises On The Economy

Last Friday's Q2 GDP report probably did more to expose the failures of Trump's economic agenda than any other piece of economic data in his Presidency. First, growth for the quarter came in at 2.1%, far below the White House's annual projections of 3%. To hit 3% for 2019, growth in the second half of this year will have to average around 3.4%, something extremely implausible given current estimates are at just 2%. Second, economic growth in 2018 was revised significantly downward, from 3% to 2.5%. As a result, the economy last year never came close to hitting Trump's promise of 3% growth, even with a $1.8 trillion tax cut for the rich. Finally, business investment came in negative for the second quarter, and was revised significantly lower for 2018, further dismantling Trump's promise that the tax cut would spur a surge in investment. Instead, the trend in business investment has actually fallen since the tax cut went into force in early 2018. 

What has been the long-term result, then, of Trump's economic agenda of tax cuts, tariffs, and deregulation that was promised to lead to 3% annual growth every year into 2028? Quite simply, nothing. Growth has averaged 2.1% over the past 3 quarters, and is projected by the Fed to be 2.1% for 2019 as a whole and 2% for 2020, a little bit slower than the 2.3% annual average during Obama's second term. The only difference is that Trump has ballooned the budget deficit, from $580 billion in 2016 to over $1 trillion projected for this year, to give handouts to the rich all the while trying to strip healthcare and food stamps from the poor. 

Weekly Notes On The Economy is a weekly column that NDN writes on the most recent economic news, policy, and data.

GOP Bringing "Moscow Rules" to American Politics

A series of events over the past several months raises questions about whether using Russian style disinformation tactics has become a core part of the GOP’s electoral strategy for the 2020 elections.

Let’s review what we’ve seen so far. In June, the Trump campaign used foreign-shot stock footage to manufacture fake people who were then used in ads run on Facebook. A top Trump campaign consultant built a series of websites falsely purporting to be the official sites of Democratic Presidential candidates. The President tweeted out a video of Nancy Pelosi he knew had been altered, and also one morning retweeted dozens of accounts almost all of which were certainly — and obviously — fake. A new set of Trump campaign Facebook ads include one which lies about the Vice President and other Democratic candidates supporting single payer health care, falsely using an image from a different question from the most recent Democratic debate.

 

This morning, the Chairwoman of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, retweeted a tweet by Senator Marco Rubio which featured selectively and misleadingly edited remarks by Rep. Ilan Omar. That the video was misleading and grossly misrepresented what she said had already been established. Yet the GOP Chair shared it anyway.

And of course there is the relentless, grinding flood of disinformation coming from the vast network of right wing bots and trolls. We’ve put together a list of some of the top right wing “amplifiers” here so as to better understand this critical part of the right’s disinfo dystopia. 

While we shouldn’t be surprised that the American political party which so enthusiastically embraced and amplified Russian active measures and disinformation in 2016 would be at it again, it does not mean that responsible Americans should accept these tactics as normal and routine. They aren’t. They are outside of what should be permissible in a mature democracy; and that we are seeing them emerge in this election should challenge all of us to do something concrete about it. Here are some ideas on what can and should be done:

Name and shame — First, we have to begin openly talking about what is going on here; condemn it when it happens; and be prepared to rebut and respond to these false attacks when they come. This tweet from the DNC’s War Room this morning is a good example.

 

Next, the social media platforms should be notified and encouraged to take down blatantly false material. Someday we may have to find a way to more formally regulate all this, as my friend Amb. Karen Kornbluh has recommended. But in the short term pressure should be applied to the platforms to be as aggressive as they can be to not knowingly spread false information.

Finally, the mainstream media should be judicious in how they cover these moments so they don’t end up just promoting false and misleading videos, statements and attacks. The role of the traditional media is particularly important here. The day the President took to Twitter and tweeted out dozens of accounts purporting to be firefighters who supported him, the Washington Post ran a story whose headline read “Trump retweets dozens of people taking issue with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” The problem of course is that The Post had no idea if these accounts were real people. Reviewing them, very few looked real. So what would be more accurate would have been “Trump retweets dozens of accounts taking issues with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” There has to be consciousness now in all stories going forward that there is a possibility these accounts are fake and that the entire episode was “disinformation” — the use of fake accounts and other means to create an impression about something which is not true.

It is my hope that all news organizations are having internal conversations now about how they are going to deal with these kinds of moments in the coming months. Have they trained their reporters and editors about common disinformation tactics? Is there a special editor assigned to officiate when questions about authenticity and whether something is disinformation are raised? Do internal practices need to be reviewed and updated to the moment? I hope all these things are happening now inside all news organizations as we get deeper into the 2020 election. For not understanding, or being surprised, can no longer be a legitimate excuse for anyone in the information or media business.

Non-proliferation — If we view disinformation and fraudulent representations as a societal “harm,” something dangerous and improper, then Democrats and other responsible actors in the political system should commit to not use these illicit tactics in their own operations. Vice President Biden has made such a commitment, and the 50 state Democratic Parties have called on the national party to seek such a commitment from all Democrats at all levels of government across the country. My hope is that other organizations in the day-to-day scrum of national politics — trade associations, advocacy groups, lobbying campaigns — also make similar commitments. Using these kind of Russian inspired disinformation tactics should be seen as something that is not just wrong, but unpatriotic, a betrayal of our democracy. Knowingly misleading your fellow citizens using fraudulent means can just never ever become okay.

Of course the fakery and fraud we discuss here is of a very conventional kind. We all expect artificial intelligence enhanced “deep fakes” to be deployed in this election. As you can see in this presentation, the ability to determine something which looks so real could be made up is going to very hard for our system and the American people, still struggling to handle the fraudulent representation described above, to manage.

After what we’ve seen already these last few months, the relentless daily lying by the President, and Mitch McConnell’s years of blocking legislation to protect our democracy and discourse, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect the Republican Party here in the US to do anything other than play by Moscow Rules in 2020. But the rest of us cannot be naive and unprepared this time. We need to condemn it, counter it, combat it and ultimately ensure that these kind of illicit tactics have no place in a democracy like ours.

This essay was originally published on the Medium website on Friday, July 26th, 2019. 

America’s Oldest Network Enables Its Newest One

One of the more fascinating parts of the digital revolution here in the US is how one of our oldest institutions — the Post Office — has become so essential to the success of the digital economy. As someone who often writes from home, I see it with my own eyes when a traditional postal letter carrier drops both our mail and packages we ordered online, together. The packages come from dozens of online companies and arrive in that final delivery on a postal truck and in the hands of a postal employee. This mix of the very old and very new captivates me every time.

 

By opening up its unique and ubiquitous delivery network to package shipments the leaders of the postal service saved this ancient institution imagined and brought to life in the 18th century by Benjamin Franklin. Email may have supplanted traditional letters, but enabling competition in package delivery (and thus lower prices) to every home in America has been great for consumers looking to save time and money and small start up businesses looking to reach national audiences on line. As a father of three I can attest that ordering on line has given hours and hours back to our family which would been be spent at malls or other retail stores. So for us modern on line retail has been an extraordinary blessing.

And this last part is important — the Postal Service delivers everywhere in the US. We know from experience that providing modern services to less populated areas has proven hard. It is why we set up the universal service fund for the telephone, electric co-ops to bring electricity to hard to serve areas and the gas tax has helped fund a truly national road network. Today we are struggling to bring high speed Internet to these same rural areas, and to ensure they also have access to modern health care. What we are not struggling with is mail and package delivery to these places because of the Postal Service.

Imagine if changes in the way packages are delivered made it harder for these rural areas to send and receive packages easily and inexpensively. It would hurt small business which thrive on sales beyond their region, and millions of consumers who might have to travel or pay far more to receive packages. It would be a form of economic and social isolation that would make it even harder for these already struggling areas to compete.

It is why the President’s intemperate calls for the Postal Service to just raise its prices on packages are so potentially dangerous for the majority of states with substantial rural populations. These communities need comprehensive strategies to help them take advantage of the all the modern world offers — broadband, health care, global export markets for agricultural products — not to further cut them off. The President’s own commission looking at these tough issues didn’t agree with him, and offered a host of other ways to assure the Postal Service survives in a very different economic landscape.

I can understand why private carriers like UPS and FedEx are lobbying hard to force the Postal Service to increase prices for its delivery services to shippers and small businesses. It would be good for their businesses. But if, in whatever form postal reform comes, and there are many good ideas out there, we end up damaging these low cost and ubiquitous shipping options we will be putting tens of millions of Americans in what are often struggling communities at risk for the benefit of a few companies; and weakening an institution, the Postal Service, which has been a great American success story for hundreds of years now.

It is why Congress must be smart here as it proceeds to modernize the Postal Service and put it on a far firmer economic footing. Rural areas need the current low cost and ubiquitous options the Postal Service provide; and families like mine all across the country not only save money but gain what is perhaps the most precious thing of all — more time with one another.

This is the first in a new series of essays I plan to write about living and governing in the digital age.  They will be irregular, at least once a month.  Am still searching for a good name for the series - feel free to make a suggestion. 

"Amplifiers" - High Volume Pro-Trump Accounts on Twitter

In the course of doing research on the right wing social media ecosystem, we keep coming across accounts who have tweeted hundreds of thousands of times.  We are fascinated by these accounts.  We share some of them with you here.  They are very high volume accounts, tweeting hundreds and thousands of times a day, day after day, and in many cases also “liking” posts at very high volume.  They seem to be set up just to amplify and thus we like to refer to them as “amplifiers.”  Yes they are all probably technically “bots,” but what matters more to us is their relentless flooding of the zone day in and day out.

Think about this.  If an account @JulieReichwein1 tweets 500 times a day, and you have let’s say 100 of those accounts, you can be tweeting 50,000 times a day every day.  50,000 tweets with 100 accounts. A few weeks ago Twitter took down a network of 5,000 pro-Trump which had up until recently working in Arabic in Saudi Arabia.  At a similar level of tweeting those 5,000 accounts could have been delivering 2.5m tweets a day.

The point of these accounts are amplification.  They take a meme and help explode it across the Twitterverse, similar to purchasing a TV ad.  But it’s free.  And importantly, regular people see this kind of high volume tweeting by accounts who appear real and have key identifiers - #MAGA, 3 star emojis to support Michael Flynn, #KAG, and QAnon references - as a sign that something must be true.  And once real people, not amplifiers or bots, but millions of real Republicans become persuaded and they start retweeting/amplifying, the meme or image truly spreads.  And that is the whole point of this kind of amplification – it is not just about reach, it is about creating permission structure for regular people to believe and become amplifiers themselves.

As we go deeper into our research we will keep sharing accounts like these as we find them.  The big question – how many are there? Dozens, hundreds, thousands, more? Let’s try to find out, together.

Innovative Thinking, Making A Difference - Giving to NDN This Year

In a time of great national challenge, we are proud of the timeliness, breadth, and thoughtfulness of our work these past few months.  We’ve covered a wide spectrum of issues – challenging Trump’s misguided trade and tariff policies, offering ongoing analyses of the President’s tax cut and the weakening US/global economies, trying to find a way past the current failed Trump approach to the border and immigration, and aggressively mapping out vital new terrain in protecting our discourse and elections from foreign manipulation.   We’ve also offered our usual complement of insights about the broader political landscape, and the changing politics inside both political parties.  We’ve followed and interpreted Europe’s recent elections, argued the path forward for the center-left is through patriotism and optimism, and raised the alarm again and again about Trump’s admiration for despots and his own outrageous abandonment of the rules, norms, and laws which make democracies work and thrive. 

And our work is reaching key policy makers here in DC.  We’ve been featured in dozens of articles in the top newspapers, magazines, and websites in the US.  We’ve been on CNN and MSNBC, and were even featured in podcasts as diverse as the one hosted by Univision anchor Leon Krauze and the one hosted by Dick Clarke, the highly respected national security thought leader.  Our social media presence, particularly on Twitter, is garnering millions of impressions each month.  Our team is connecting with those on the Hill most days, and we even collaborated recently with the 50 state Democratic Parties on an important resolution advancing election security.  So once again we are not just howling into the wind of history, but successfully working to forge a better path in a deeply tumultuous time. 

Our fundraising has gone well this year but as with every organization there is always more money to raise - we need to raise about another $50,000 to make our 2019 target.  Can you give something today - $25, $50, $100 or more – to help us reach our goal?  Every little bit helps – as each contribution is itself a “like” and affirmation of our work. 

Finally, as I look back at my 27 years in Washington, and 23 years leading NDN, what I am most proud of us is that this organization, in different forms, over a long period of time, has continued to provide cutting edge thought leadership even as the issues we debate, the challenges we face, and the leaders here who lead us have changed, dramatically.  We’ve only been able to do that because of you, your inspiration, your financial support, your partnership.  We cannot rest for despite of all our accomplishments, our hardest and most important work still lies ahead.

With gratitude.

Onward, together -

Simon

Simon In Richard Clarke's Future State Podcast On "The Future Of Hacking Democracy"

We’re very excited to share with you that Simon’s discussion with former National Security Council Special Advisor Richard Clarke, titled The Future of Hacking Democracy, is now available for your listening pleasure.  Drawing from his experience running a countering disinformation operation for the DCCC in the 2018 election cycle, Simon talks about what Russia did in 2016, new trends and threats we've seen in the past few years, and what steps we should be taking now to prevent foreign governments and domestic actors from manipulating our elections and discourse.  Big thanks to Richard for being a gracious host. You can listen to the discussion on “The Future State” podcast here (please select Episode 20). 

ASDC Resolution on Protecting our Elections from Foreign Manipulation

The following is the text of a Association of State Democratic Committees (ASDC) resolution that passed unanimously on June 15th in Santa Fe.  A PDF of the official resolution is below. 

Resolution on Protecting Our Elections from Foreign Manipulation

Whereas in 2016 the Russian government launched an extensive attack on America’s democracy and the Democratic Party and its leadership in particular;

Whereas the current Administration has not taken sufficient steps in these past 2 ½ years to protect our elections, our candidates, our political parties and our discourse; and

Whereas America’s intelligence services have warned that Russia and other nations are likely to attempt to manipulate our elections and discourse once again in this current election cycle; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the Association of State Democratic Committees (ASDC):

  1. Urges the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to establish a new party-wide framework which would discourage and prevent the use of the kind of illicit campaign tactics used by Russia against our party in 2016 in the 2020 elections; 
  2. Recommends this framework seek to discourage and prevent hacking and the use of hacked or stolen materials; discourage and prevent the use of disinformation tactics including, but not limited to, the use of fake social media accounts, fake websites, bots, trolls, troll farms, deep fakes and any use of falsified images, video or audio;
  3. Endorses efforts by Senator Ron Wyden and FEC Chairwomen Ellen Weintraub to protect our elections from cyber-attacks, including by allowing national party committees to use monies from the Party’s building funds to provide cybersecurity assistance to campaigns and state parties;
  4. Encourages a new party wide commitment regarding the reporting of illicit activity discovered from any source to the proper authorities, the social media platforms and the DNC; and to discourage the use of these tactics by supporters, allied groups and institutions and consultants.

Mover: Tina Podlodowski, Chair, Washington State Democratic Party

Seconder: Raymond Buckley, Chair, New Hampshire Democratic Party

Biden, Democratic State Parties Embrace Call to Forgo Illicit Campaign Tactics

Over the past few days, we’ve seen dramatic progress on efforts to prevent the continued proliferation of the kind of illicit campaign tactics Russia used in the 2016 election.  On Friday, Vice President Biden made his own very public and aggressive pledge (and see this companion video), expanding on his public commitment to the idea prior to him becoming a candidate.  And on Saturday, the Democratic States Parties passed a resolution calling on the DNC to encourage Democratic candidates to adopt such a pledge, and forgo the use of these tactics against one another in the Democratic Presidential Primary.  At NDN we are very proud to see an idea which we’ve arguably been the principal champion of making so much headway.  You can read more about these exciting developments in stories from Natasha Korecki in Politico and Amy Wang in the Washington Post.

We first called for a pledge like this in an op-ed published on Dec 18th, 2018 on the NBC News website: “The DCCC also made an unprecedented public pledge to combat these new malicious tactics by committing to never use hacked materials in the election, as was done against us in 2016. We think future pledges like this one should include promises not to hack, use hacked materials or use fake accounts, bots, troll farms or “deep fakes.” Whether the parties themselves can agree to a common approach remains to be seen — it didn’t work this time — but the DNC and sister committees should lead by example and get every Democratic presidential campaign to sign on to some set of practices similar to the pledge released by the DCCC in 2018.  Everyone in US politics, regardless of party, should follow our lead and commit to not use the tools the Russians used — and continue to use — against us and other democracies in our own work.”  

And we expanded on this idea in a series of essays, twitter threads, and television appearances in the months since. 

Where is all this going? Our hope is that these steps to create new norms, to make clear what is right and what is wrong in a democracy, will be adopted by all candidates and parties in the US, Democratic and Republican. These are common sense practices and should be the norm here and in democracies throughout the world.  In the days after the recent, horrific shooting in New Zealand we saw another step in this direction when a dozen nations came together with the major social media platforms in Paris to form the Christchurch Call, which is a broad commitment to rid the Internet of extremist speech.  Eventually we hope these incremental steps forward build over time into some kind of global set of norms, frameworks and understandings.  It just cannot be that the wanton interference in the domestic politics of other nations becomes commonplace, particularly as a tool of authoritarian governments to weaken the global democratic challenge to their unjust rule.  We have to draw the line now, brightly. And the courageous steps Vice President Biden and the Democratic State Chairs have taken in recent days should encourage all of us that we’ve begun to develop a coherent societal response to this particular pernicious manifestation of the digital age. 

Wyden Cyber Bill - The resolution passed by the State Chairs also endorsed an effort to make it easier to provide and pay for cybersecurity tools for federal campaigns and state parties.  Current law makes this hard, and recently Senator Wyden introduced a bill which would allow the party committees to use their building fund accounts to pay for cyber security tools and services.  This effort has also been backed by the Chair of the FEC, Ellen Weintraub, and other organizations including the Campaign Legal Center and R Street.  A version of the Wyden Bill will soon by introduced in the House.  More on that when it happens. 

Trump 1.0 Has Failed. What Comes Next?

Trumpism Is Failing – Two and a half years in and Trumpism is increasingly looking like a failed governing and political project.  No other President in the history of polling has been as unpopular as Trump in their first term; the 2018 elections were a significant repudiation of his politics and leadership; the economy is clearly slowing as the badly designed stimulus/tax plan starts to run out of gas and his trade policies wreck havoc on the US and global economies; his immigration approach is among the biggest policy failures modern America has seen; America's standing in the world has taken a huge hit; after years of dramatic decline, the uninusred rate has begun to rise again; perhaps no President has been less faithful to the promises they made during their campaign; and then there is the relentless crazy Twitter feed, wild policy swings, venal corruption, denigration of democracy and its rules, and the ongoing dance with despots and oligarchs.   It is just a huge ugly failure, a political bankruptcy, a tired TV show which has lost its magic.

Recent polls capture just how bad it is for Trump. Fox News has him losing nationally by 10 points to Joe Biden. Quinnipiac has him down by 13, Ipsos by 11, and Morning Consult by 11. Trump has now spent over 730 days with a net approval rating of -10 or worse. At this point in their Presidencies, all other Presidents since 1953 combined have been at -10 or worse for just 100 days.  He also trails Biden by 11 points in recent polls in MI and PA, showing that it is he and not Democrats who have to win back voters in the Rust Belt. New polls also have him down in AZ, NC, and even TX, 3 states which have not been part of the Dems' Blue Wall.  If the election were held today Trump would lose badly, McGovern/Mondale territory.  And as his recent retreat over Mexican tariffs demonstrates, he knows it.

As he kicks off his re-election, Trump has two options now.  Retool, reboot, move on to Trump 2.0.  Seems unlikely at this point, but could happen.  The other option is that he does something dramatic and dangerous to fundamentally alter the current political landscape which is so unfavorable to him now – war with Iran, trade wars with everyone, despotic attacks on his domestic opposition.  What our political system has to come to terms with in the short term is that the volatility we are seeing in the White House these days could get far worse, as nothing he is doing is working to improve his poor standing; the economy is going to get worse; and his legal troubles will worsen too.  Where might this take us? Nowhere good we fear. But where we are likely not headed is a second term for this accidential and awful President. 

NDN's Chris Taylor made significant contributions to this analysis.

Syndicate content